Pilot Review: How To Get Away With Murder

On Thursday, Shonda Rhimes wrapped ABC’s impressive Thursday night lineup with newcomer How To Get Away With Murder. It was by far the most anticipated series premiere since the show’s announcement in May (and even well before that). Overall, the show was fantastic. It’s now the #1 new TV series of the year, and tied for #2 highest-rated scripted show overall (behind CBS’s Big Bang and tied with ABC’s Modern Family & Scandal), lifting ABC to its best Thursday night in the last five years. Five years! It still had some issues, but it was very, very solid pilot.

Viola Davis should be holding another trophy by the season’s end. (Source: HitFix/ABC)

How To Get Away With Murder follows lawyer Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) who gets her students involved in her cases…and it gets more personal than they could ever imagine.

I actually thought coming in that Viola Davis wouldn’t be shown as much, considering her movie record and busy schedule. But it was indeed the complete opposite. She was in practically every scene, or every other scene. And. She. OWNED. It. It’s the best acting I’ve seen so far. Yes, I know we have 51 weeks left in the season. But I’m just saying: she’s the front-runner for the Best Actress Emmy right now.

As for her students, everyone’s role has been pretty well-established. While this is Annalise Keating’s show, we follow Wes Gibbins’s life, played well by Alfred Enoch. His un-supportive ensemble cast of colleagues are pretty okay (which includes Matt McGorry, who plays Bennett from Orange Is The New Black). Their performances are pretty pedestrian. We get  the diligent; uncaring girl (Michaela); the seductive, resourceful guy (Connor); the underdog leader (Wes); the brainy, socially-awkward girl (Rebecca), the slutty professor (Everyone). We get it. Stereotypes exist. But the characters don’t go beyond those stereotypes, and appear as an empty shell. Perhaps it’s a lot to ask for in an establishing pilot with so much necessary plot, but that’s how I felt. The actor’s chemistry will improve over the course of the show hopefully. Viola Davis doesn’t have to change. Ever.

The first 15 minutes of the show was dazzling. I was on board. I wanted to be in that class. Actually, no, I wouldn’t. But I wanted to be the fly on the class wall. Anything involving Viola or Wes had me intrigued. Once we branched into learning what each character brought to the table, it made the show interesting where strengths will be coming from. So the first 30 minutes hummed along great. Then, we hit some awkward scene execution.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER has been impressive in its first go around, and could be the hit ABC needs to get out of last place. (Source: Scripts Shadow/ABC)

For example, the apology scene with Professor Keating’s and Wes (those who watched will know) was awkward, and not in the “we meant-to-do-that” way. Perhaps they were trying to show how fragile Professor Keating actually was? Maybe? It just seemed out of character. Also, when we find out one of the associates sleeps with students, the preceding dialogue was awkward in the same way. These certainly didn’t ruin anything, but the dialogue needs some work. With that said, the last 10 minutes were just as fun as the beginning.

The plot itself was a good set-up for how the long-term story arc will work with the procedural “case-of-the-week”. I don’t mind the season long arc, as long as it doesn’t suffocate the weekly proceedings. I hope they reduce flash-forwards or completely eliminate them. The whiplash of going modern-day to future was kind of disrupting.

Otherwise, I was incredibly impressed with this pilot. I don’t think the overall season story will keep viewers as interested as predecessor Scandal. But How To Get Away with Murder could be to ABC what The Blacklist was for NBC last year: the show that finally brings the network respectability after so many years on the bottom. How To Get Away with Murder is the accomplished, necessary stable show the last place network needs to catch up to, or possibly even surpass, 3rd place FOX this season.

And hopefully ABC and creator Peter Nowalk will get away with it.

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